Unlocking the Mysteries of Cape May diamonds

Gravel and Cape May diamonds
Gravel and Cape May diamonds

Visitors to Sunset Beach on the Delaware Bay, in West Cape May, New Jersey, have delighted in collecting Cape May Diamonds for many generations. Actually, the smoothly tumbled, translucent gems were first discovered centuries ago by the Kechemeche, a Native American tribe who believed the stones possessed supernatural powers.  The tribe is even known to have traded larger, flawless specimens with colonial settlers during the seventeenth century. Fast forwarding to the mid-twentieth century, the remnants became especially desirable to local jewelers who found that when polished, the stones resemble sparkling diamonds to the untrained eye. Soon thereafter, nearby shops began to market bracelets, rings, and earrings with the locally found wonders, and the creations quickly became coveted souvenirs for thousands of tourists who flock to Cape May each summer. However, many would argue that even more impressive than the uncanny resemblance of the polished stones to authentic diamonds is the mysterious history of the gems.

Sunset Beach - Sunken Ship
Sunset Beach – Sunken Ship

Those who uncover Cape May Diamonds for the first time often believe the remnants are derived from slag glass, or excess glass that was commonly discarded into the Delaware River during the heyday of glass-blowing factories, many of which operated along the river. However, the glistening finds are not associated with former glass factories and in fact, do not originate from any objects that were tossed into waterways by previous generations (as much of the sea glass that rolls ashore is derived from), nor are the “diamonds” remnants of shipwrecks (another, although less common method of which sea glass initially enters the waterways). Actually, the jewels are formed from crystal quartz rocks that fall from the upper echelons of the Pennsylvania Mountains and proceed to slowly meander down the river for thousands of years, during which time they are transformed into smooth shiny stones.

What is particularly fascinating is that although the stones tumble in the river for thousands of years, they travel only a very short distance before washing up in the Sunset Bay area. This fact long puzzled admirers of Cape May Diamonds since according to the laws of nature, it is logical that the remnants would continue to float down the river for numerous miles, rather than end their journeys near Cape May, only a mere 200 miles from their starting point. The mystery is tied to an experimental WWI concrete fighter ship that was towed to the area in 1926 with the intention of sinking the ship to protect the entrance to the newly built Cape May Canal. Yet after sinking, the ship unexpectedly floated one to two miles towards shore before encountering a sand bar and miraculously became a permanent barrier to the Atlantic Ocean, thereby also taking credit for trapping the stones in the bay. To further the mystery, despite the close proximity of the remnants to the shoreline after becoming confined to the bay, they encounter another natural phenomena of which significantly prolongs their arrival ashore. Since the Sunset Bay stretches for seventeen miles, yet the belly of the bay is twenty-six miles across, there is a strong flow on both outgoing and incoming tides so the stones undergo extreme turbulence and require several years to propel to shore. Nevertheless, the especially smoothly tumbled coats boasted by Cape May Diamonds could be considered the silver lining of their long, arduous voyages.

Cape May Diamonds are discovered in an array of sizes, yet are generally quite small, about the size of a tiny pebble; however, it isn’t unusual for those who search frequently to amass several marble-sized specimens. The largest “diamond” ever discovered reportedly weighed in at just under a whopping eight ounces – almost a half a pound! Those who desire to venture to the area to search may want to keep in mind that the larger (and more coveted) specimens tend to be transported to shore during the wintertime when the currents are notably stronger. A final tip, as well as one that rarely receives the credit it deserves in the literature, is that the “diamonds” are known to occasionally escape across the bay to the Delaware Coastline for lucky beachcombers to find.

by Ellie Mercier


Side Note:  When visiting Sunset Beach, be sure to leave at least one night open to join us for the evening flag ceremony held daily in season (May through September). A tradition for over 40 years, all of the flags that are flown at Sunset Beach are veterans’ casket flags that families bring with them from their loved one’s funeral.  There is nothing as thought provoking than to watch the sun set over the Delaware Bay while taps plays and Old Glory is lowered for the evening. If you have not experienced this emotionally moving tradition, be sure to participant in this celebration of being an American.  And while you’re there, catch one of the most amazing sunsets you will ever see!

NASGA Shard of the Year, a collectors dream come true

Each year during the North American Sea Glass Festival, the Shard of the Year (“SOTY”) contest, is held in memory of Joanne Schrieber, founder of the 2004 North East Sea Glass Festival.  Private collectors are given an opportunity to show off some of their special pieces.  The 2014 contest showcased nearly 800 entries, and was truly an amazing display of treasured finds.

All shards of genuine sea glass from around the world are eligible for entry into the Shard of the Year contest, not just shards from “North America”.   Every beachcomber treasure found has a little bit of history within it, but during the Shard of the Year contest, it’s a time to showcase the rare finds. 

It is a beauty contest, where the most unusual pristine piece is awarded the grand prize, $1,000 dollars, and is named winner of the Overall Beauty category, and bragging rights to it’s owner for years to come!  

Grand Prize winner, Lou Marcotte, with NASGA President Richard LaMotte
Grand Prize winner, Lou Marcotte, with NASGA President Richard LaMotte

The 2014 Shard of the Year grand prize winner, Lou Marcotte, submitted a beautiful red piece found in the Dominican Republic.

Overall Winner-Marcotte shard
Photo Credit: Gary de Blois

The piece was from a glass candlestick, made by Westmoreland Glass Company sometime in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s.   The pattern of this particular candlestick is Doric, and as shown in the photo below, the original was a beauty as well.

History photo credit:  Janice Pierce
History photo credit: Janice Pierce

The remaining categories were runner-up, pottery/ceramics, whimsical/toys, bottle stopper, most unusual, historical, art glass, buttons, figural and marbles.

2014 Shard of the Year Winners. Photo Credit Gary de Blois


A huge thank you to Gary de Blois, who photographed the 2014 Shard of the Year contest.  To find out more about the Shard of the Year contest and NASGA, please visit the North American Sea Glass Festival website.

2014 Festival Schedule Announced

The NASGA website has been updated to include the schedule for the 2014 Sea Glass Festival.  http://seaglassassociation.org/FestivalSchedule2014.html

On Saturday, the schedule includes two not-to-be-missed presentations as well as a chance to ask sea glass experts the things you’ve always wanted to know about sea glass:

  • Presentation:  Shipwrecks of New Jersey by Margaret Buchholz, noted author and expert on Atlantic coastal history, takes us on a gripping 350-year voyage through the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” — a name bestowed upon the state’s treacherous shoals and inlets.
  • Open Forum:  The Mystery and History of Genuine Sea Glass  Panel discussion with sea glass experts and serious collectors Mary Beth Beuke, Jeanie Hood, Jenna Perfetti, Maryann Wadiak, and moderated by Cape May’s own Darlene Eldridge.  Bring all of your sea glass questions for the panel.
  • Presentation: The Sea Glass Center and Traveling Sea Glass Museum  by Danielle PerraultJoin Danielle Perreault, Executive Director of The Sea Glass Center Kennebunkport, Maine as she reveals images of natural and man-made sea glass taken from a scanning electron microscope at The University of Southern Maine.

On Sunday, the Festival’s premiere event, the Shard of the Year Contest, awards up to $2,000 in cash prizes for the most pristine and unusual shards of genuine sea glass and other found objects.

See the web site page for details on how to enter the contest and your chance to win the top prize of $1,000.  http://seaglassassociation.org/Festival_SOTY.html

As well, NASGA has made arrangements for free remote parking and a free short trolley ride to shuttle you back and forth to the Cape May Convention Hall.  Details and a map are now on the Cape May Information page:  http://seaglassassociation.org/CapeMayInfo2014.html

The festival is six short weeks away – see you then!2014ColorAd1


Details Announced for the 2014 North American Sea Glass Festival in Cape May, New Jersey

Sea glass collectors and aficionados from throughout North America will gather in Cape May, New Jersey this fall to share their treasures from the sea and learn more about this increasingly popular pastime. The 9th annual North American Sea Glass Festival will be held September 27-28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cape May Convention Hall, 714 Beach Avenue in beautiful Cape May. Admission is $5 daily at the door, and the public is invited.

2014 North American Sea Glass Festival
NASGA President, Richard LaMotte showing a young sea glass enthusiast how to distinguish real sea glass from fake tumbled glass.

New to this year’s festival will be the Open Sea Glass Forum, an interactive general question and answer discussion moderated by members of the North American Sea Glass Association. In addition, festival attendees will enjoy presentations from sea glass experts regarding the history and origins of sea glass as well as stunning displays of rare and collectible sea glass.

2014 North American Sea Glass Festival
Beautiful sea glass jewelry, art and home decor can be found at the North American Sea Glass Festival with artisans from all over the United States in attendance at the Cape May festival this year. Festival photo credits: Gary du Blois

Over fifty exhibits by sea glass collectors, artisans, and authors will feature only genuine sea glass combed from beaches around the world.  Please see the Participating Exhibitors tab for a complete list.

2014 North American Sea Glass Festival
the highly anticipated Shard of the Year contest brings a lot of Ooohs and Ahhhs… and a chance to win $1,000.00 – Festival photo credits: Gary du Blois

The annual “Shard of the Year”contest awards $1,000 to the grand prize winner as well as additional cash prizes in numerous categories. Please see details at the SOTY Contest tab on the left.

The North American Sea Glass Association is proud to announce that a portion of the festival proceeds will benefit two New Jersey non-profit entities: Clean Ocean Action and the Wetlands Institute. You can read more about these groups on the NASGA Blog

Cape May Conventional HallThe beautiful new Cape May Conventional Hall is located directly on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. The historic City of Cape May, New Jersey, is rolling out the red carpet for the Sea Glass Festival and is a fantastic seaside community to bring the entire family.

CapeMay-LewesFerryThe Cape May-Lewes Ferry is offering a 30% off discount to festival goers. Please click  here for information on the ferry discount,  be sure to book your reservations early!  You’ll also find directions to the Convention Hall and the festival, a partial hotel listing for properties close to the Convention Hall, and much more local information.

2014 North American Sea Glass Festival poster

2014 Festival Poster

This year’s beautiful poster photography using the Cape May lighthouse as a backdrop is by Anita Roth, Anita Roth Photography. The graphic artist was Francine Mueller, Sea Goddess Treasures. Both are commercial members of NASGA.  The poster can be purchased for $10 plus $6 postage by clicking this link: 2014 Poster

All of this information and more can be found on the North American Sea Glass Festival website. Be sure to share this important information with your fellow sea glass enthusiasts.  See you in September!


NASGA to donate to The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey

Every year the North American Sea Glass Association holds it’s annual North American Sea Glass Festival, and every year, the festival donates to a few local charitable organizations that focus on environmental concerns, shoreline protection and clean-ups, all which are also part of the NASGA mission.

This year, the NASGA Sea Glass Festival will be held September 27 and 28th at the Cape May Convention Hall in Cape May, New Jersey.   So, in keeping with past traditions, the NASGA Board of Directors wanted to make sure the donations would stay in New Jersey, to help local environmental efforts.  The Board of Directors voted on two organizations, this blog entry will introduce the second charitable organizations chosen, The Wetlands Institute located in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.
The Wetlands Institute is a hands on non-profit, focusing on the preservation of coastal waterways, wetlands and ecosystems through research, education, conservation and citizen action.   As their vision and mission statement suggests,  they strive for a world where wetlands and coastal ecosystems thrive, and educate people on how essential these systems are to life.   Their goals focus on promoting the appreciation, understanding & stewardship of the wetlands and coastal ecosystems through their programs and stewardship in research, education & conservation.

Since its foundation in 1969, The Wetlands Institute has actively engaged in a wide variety of research projects pertaining to the habitats, processes, and wildlife of the local barrier beach and wetland ecosystems. Each summer, The Wetlands Institute runs the Coastal Conservation Research Program (CCRP), which provides 5-10 student interns mentoring and supervised research opportunities with experienced research scientists.  The Wetlands Institute is a proud founding member of EarthShare New Jersey, the only environmental federation for workplace giving in the state.  To find out more about the history of The Wetlands Institute, visit their History page here.

To see upcoming events, festivals, class schedules, or to find out about volunteering or visiting The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, please visit their website.
The Wetlands Institute is a 501(c)3 tax exempt nonprofit organization.

written by Kim Hannon, NASGA Board Member